India cricketers warm up. (BCCI/Twitter)
India cricketers warm up. (BCCI/Twitter)

Mithali-led India eye comeback against South Africa

  • Mithali Raj-led hosts eye a comeback post an eight wicket loss in the opener on Sunday.
By Sharad Deep, Lucknow
PUBLISHED ON MAR 08, 2021 10:50 PM IST

The Indian women’s cricket team’s restart button, after a year of waiting, may not have turned on their ODI campaign against South Africa in the most desirable way but the opportunity to make amends abound starting with the second game here on Tuesday.

At the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Ekana International Stadium, the second match of the five-ODI series will be played on a black soil turf as the Mithali Raj-led hosts eye a comeback post an eight wicket loss in the opener on Sunday.

While Mithali Raj (50) and Harmanpreet Kaur (40) put up a fight in taking India’s total to 177/9 in 50 overs, in the bowling department apart from another veteran Jhulan Goswami’s two scalps no one could take a wicket. South Africa reached the target with 9.5 overs remaining.

It was a clear reflection of the lack of game time for the hosts before the series. Kaur, who achieved a personal milestone of appearing in 100 ODIs on Sunday, accepted that they were thoroughly outplayed due to the constraints.

“We didn’t get any international cricket for a year. Apart from three IPL games, we didn’t get much time to work as a unit. As a team you need to spend time and get ready for any series,” Kaur said after the game.

“Nowadays everybody is looking for a big total, every game we want to score more than 250 but for that you need some time and matches. In the past few years we had built a rhythm but we will need time to create that and next game we will try to do that as a unit.”

Three-hour rigorous training under the scorching sun on Monday afternoon was enough to make it clear how desperately the Indians want to get their act together. Before Sunday, there was no international cricket for Mithali and Co in the last 364 days. They last played at the 2020 World Cup final against Australia in Melbourne on March 8.

Things could have been different for Indian women, if a couple of international tours had not been cancelled due to Covid-19 restrictions. First, it was the England tour in September, and then the tour to Australia this January. On the other hand, teams like Australia, New Zealand, England, West Indies, Pakistan and even South Africa has been on the road for quite some time now. SA’s 5-1 win, including the 2-1 victory in T20Is against Pakistan at home this year, had a clear impact on their showing on Sunday.

India need to pull up their socks in all departments, with the bowling unit showing a lack of bite. Though Goswami took two wickets, more is expected from the tall pacer with around 227 ODI wickets in her kitty. Leg-spinner Poonam Yadav could beat South African opener Lizelle Lee only once, while Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Deepti Sharma and part-timer Kaur too did not pose any threat to the rivals. Even debutant Monica Patel, who replaced experienced pacer Shikha Pandey in the series, was given a reality check at the senior level as she conceded 20 runs in her four-over stint. A record 169-run opening stand between Lizelle Lee and Laura Wolvaardt made things more difficult for the hosts.

India would also want more consistency with willow against a disciplined bowling attack led by Shabnim Ismail, South Africa’s all-time leading wicket-taker in ODIs and T20Is. She bowled at a speed of 120 plus kmph on the red-clay turf and returned with a three-wicket haul. She found able support in left-arm orthodox spinner Nonkululeko Mlaba, who bowled one maiden and took two wickets, while SA skipper Sune Luus chipped in with the crucial wicket of Kaur.

The other medium pacers Marizanne Kapp and Ayabonga Khaka, too, made good use of the bounce and shared two wickets between them to see the Indians finish below 180.

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